Being responsible for your own words is hard enough, but it’s nothing compared to being responsible for the words of others. Yet, that is a large part of the everyday task of all Michigan Daily editors. Unsurprisingly, things don’t always go smoothly.

Last week, a student brought to my attention an op-ed viewpoint submission he had made to the editorial page. The student was annoyed that the ultimate version of the viewpoint that was printed mangled his apparent thesis — a result of a haphazard and drastic cutting process, he said. There’s no doubt that something went wrong in editing that particular piece, and I thought I’d use that issue to launch a broader discussion of the Daily’s editing process.

Editors of every section of this paper have the responsibility of revising and perfecting the work of staff writers in their sections. Editorial page editors have an added responsibility of reviewing and editing submissions made by outsiders, such as viewpoints and letters to the editor. The balance between allowing the writer’s voice to come through and printing the most polished piece possible is a tough one to navigate. Yet both responsibilities are immensely important.

I remember that in my years as an arts writer, there was no more oppressive a feeling than picking up the Daily before class one morning and finding that a movie review I had spent hours working on had been squished into a tiny space, chopped viciously and robbed of all character. Though I learned to deal with it better, that used to happen to me even as a senior writer.

I’m sure writers in every section of this paper know what I’m talking about. While there are all sorts of people writing for the Daily, they have one thing in common: they consider writing to be their strength. So, to have an article be completely rewritten in editing can be a maddening occurrence. Maddening, but often necessary.

As writers (hopefully) learn quickly, there is no submission that can’t be improved by a smart, focused editor. And if the writer can be involved in the editing process, then that’s even better — not only does the piece itself improve, but the writer also learns lessons to be applied in future work.

Collaborative editing with staff writers should be practiced in every section of this paper as much as possible. But, in addition to being a staff writer, I was also an editor, so I can see the other side of this coin too. A newspaper has deadlines, and, as student-journalists, editors are always short on time. There won’t always be time to sit down with a writer to do a collaborative edit, and often, it can seem like just a tedious addition to daily editing duties.

I fought that mindset as an editor myself, so I know the importance of overcoming it. At a student newspaper, the mission is not just to cover the news and provide commentary, but also to improve as writers and journalists, and then pass on what you learn to the next class of writers. The tedium of teaching the proper way to do things through a collaborative edit is a big part of the job.

The task of editing the submissions of outsiders, such as letters to the editor, is an added challenge. There is no face-to-face editing in this context, and there isn’t always time to contact the submitter to get clarifications or corrections. While the Daily will sometimes send an edited piece back to the outside writer to proofread, this practice has pitfalls, and I always thought best to avoid it.

As an independent editorial voice, the Daily has the right to properly and fairly edit all submissions for clarity, veracity and space constraints. But this task must be given the utmost attention because when mistakes occur, it’s easy for outsiders to criticize the paper’s processes or intentions. Should the Daily fail on this front by making too many mistakes, it may have no choice but to cede to outside submitters some of the editorial authority it has — something that should be avoided.

My feeling is that most problems in the editing of stories come from a lack of focus: It’s easy for an editor to lose sight of the importance of one piece when dealing with numerous submissions each night. But consider that each of those pieces is written by an individual who doesn’t care how well you edited all the other pieces on the page that night. Proper editing of submissions is part of the Daily’s mission of responsiveness to readers, and it is a responsibility that deserves attention.

The public editor is an independent critic of the Daily, and neither the editorial board nor the editor in chief exercise control over the contents of his columns. The opinions expressed do not necessarily constitute the opinion of the Daily. Imran Syed can be reached at

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